Christmas is upon us, and nary a cookie is coming from my kitchen. Not for Santa or for anyone else. I have seen the light.
Last year I spent the month of December perfecting a recipe for my cookie invention, the Gingerchip. I finally got the consistency I desired for a ginger brownie with chips of candied ginger, then made dozens. I placed them in entirely too cute holiday-themed Chinese food takeout boxes. I delivered them to the doorways of friends, spreading much-needed pandemic cheer.
I am horrified my friend isn’t cooking, and I am mortified that I am judging her for it. What is going on?
This year I am practicing what I preach: A woman’s right to choose extends to holiday baking.
If you received my cookies last year and are wondering where they are, blame The Friend Who Ordered Thanksgiving. She finally exorcized my nasty inner patriarch — and my compulsion to spend a month baking Christmas cookies.
It’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and I am being driven crazy by a recipe for rolls that I’ve used my entire life. I am up to my eyeballs in flour, and all I have to show for it is four dozen hockey pucks fresh out of the oven. Something has gone terribly awry.
The rolls are from an old family recipe, and people never shut up about how good they are. There’s no way I’d serve this batch. But I have to bake and freeze them today if I’m to stay on schedule for the week.
In addition to trying to tame this dough, I am making stuffing with chorizo, gravy, spoon bread, cranberry sauce, country ham, mashed potatoes, a roast vegetable salad with sweet potatoes, an apple cake with caramel sauce and a fancy shrimp hors d’oeuvre. From scratch. These items will accompany the one thing I grudgingly let my husband handle, the turkey.
I have no alternative but to start the rolls again. Instead of the four hours I planned to give baking for the day, I’m in for eight.
The phone rings. I know not to answer the phone; this is no time for chitchat. I answer the phone.
I speak with a friend for 10 minutes, but I can only tell you one line of the entire conversation; after I hear what she did, time stands still.
She ordered Thanksgiving for eight.
My Southern-born brain cannot process this information. Eventually, I understand that she has arranged to pick up an entire Thanksgiving meal from a grocery store. It’s pre-cooked. To add to the severity of her crime, she also ordered three desserts and a few appetizers.
As she speaks, I am staring at the flour that is covering every surface in my kitchen. There is flour on the trash can, on the floor, in the sink and dusting my coffee maker. There is flour on my shoes.
How dare she?
I am a committed feminist. And here are my feminist thoughts as her words richocheted between my ears:
1. What’s the point of Thanksgiving if you don’t put in any effort?
2.Appetizers and desserts? Are you kidding me? How hard is a cheese ball?
3.You don’t work, and you can’t summon enough energy to cook a holiday meal? Really?
4.What are your kids going to remember about the holiday? What a good job Stew Leonard did with the turkey?
I sound like Tucker Carlson, and I am not proud. This is the kind of ugliness I always condemn in others. I am horrified my friend isn’t cooking, and I am mortified that I am judging her for it. What is going on?
Also, I am being ridiculous. I was so tired and stressed as I cooked Thanksgiving dinner that I inadvertently doubled the salt for the spoon bread. Spoon bread is usually delicious. Mine was inedible. Furthermore, it’s not hyperbole to say I couldn’t walk after I was done cooking. I spent Black Friday in bed.
Why on earth would I want anyone to go through that? Why would I expect a woman with three children to cook like that?
I am a woman resenting another’s freedom, and I am familiar with this resentment because I chose not to have children. I would die if I had three children. The thought alone makes me tired. How is it possible that I’ve criminalized getting takeout for the holidays?
Yet, I cannot imagine ordering anything to serve people at my home. I even make my own hummus.
I love to cook, and I love to entertain. I look at cooking and entertaining as a creative act. When people enjoy a meal I’ve prepared, it’s immensely gratifying. The faces of my guests light up. They know they’re worth my time.
But I also think that inside me, buried way in the dark, is a fear of what would happen if I didn’t cook.
Would people want to come over? Would my husband’s kids and their partners still show up? Would I have any value whatsoever as a woman? If I’m not cooking and cleaning and suffering and atoning, am I a woman?
Wow. Looks like the patriarchy moved into my psyche, got in his La-Z-Boy and put his feet up while I made his dinner.
After all, when my friend said she ordered Thanksgiving, not once did I wonder why her husband wasn’t cooking. I’m full of arguments about why I think people should cook, but my expectations were firmly on her.
Then I remembered something: Any gift we give should be freely given. It floats my boat to cook for people, but I would never want to do so if it were an obligation. And it turns out the cookies felt like an obligation. I had no desire to make them.
If my friend hadn’t ordered Thanksgiving, chances are I’d have spent the last week up to my eyeballs in flour and resentment. Next year I might even buy an apple crumb pie and show up at her house.
I lie. That’s not going to happen. But I am done judging. Whether or not a woman has a bun in the oven is her business.